UCSD researchers create the first EKG patch to incorporate a biochemical sensor

ChemPhys patch--Courtesy of UC San Diego

Engineers at the University of California, San Diego, have staked a claim to being the first to create a wearable that can simultaneously monitor biochemical and electrical bodily signals. Their Chem-Phys patch simultaneously records both electrocardiograms (EKGs) and lactate, which is a biochemical marker that's a measure of physical effort.

Next, researchers intend to add sensors for other chemical markers, such as magnesium and potassium, as well as other vital sign monitoring capabilities.

The patch is worn on the chest and sends data wirelessly to a smartphone, smartwatch or a laptop. It's expected to be useful for athletic monitoring, as well as potentially for heart disease. In a medical setting, lactate levels are monitored in patients with heart failure, sepsis, shock or a heart attack.

The research was led by nanoengineering professor Joseph Wang and electrical engineering professor Patrick Mercier from the UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering; it was detailed in the May 23 issue of Nature Communications.

"One of the overarching goals of our research is to build a wearable tricorder-like device that can measure simultaneously a whole suite of chemical, physical and electrophysiological signals continuously throughout the day," Mercier said in a statement. "This research represents an important first step to show this may be possible."

Lactate measurements are considered indicative of athletic performance, so an early use would obviously be for high-performance athletes. The researchers said they already are getting requests from Olympic athletes about the technology from their Center for Wearable Sensors.

The patch was tested on three men who wore it while intensely active on a stationary bike; two of them also wore a commercial heart rate wrist monitor. The data closely matched each other, with the lactate biosensor data being similar to that in other intensity workout studies.

"The ability to sense both EKG and lactate in a small wearable sensor could provide benefits in a variety of areas," explained Dr. Kevin Patrick, a physician and director of the Center for Wireless and Population Health Systems at UCSD, who was not involved with the research. "There would certainly be interest in the sports medicine community about how this type of sensing could help optimize training regimens for elite athletes."

"The ability to concurrently assess EKG and lactate could also open up some interesting possibilities in preventing and/or managing individuals with cardiovascular disease," he added.

- here is the release
- and here is the Nature Communications paper

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